Judge to Determine Public Access to Utah's Rivers

This week a 4th District judge ruled that while the waters are public, he wants more information on the matter before he can determine whether a law limiting access to them is unconstitutional.

Since 2010, the Utah Stream Access Coalition has been working to reverse House Bill 141.

Bert Lay, President of the Coalition says that bill limits boaters, bird watchers, and anglers from doing the things they love on public waters: “With the passage of 141, floating over privately held streambeds is still allowed but you cannot stop, you cannot get out, you cannot anchor, or in any way stop your forward progress down a river or stream.”

The Coalition also overturned a Utah Supreme Court ruling that was handed down in 2008.

“That decision said that the waters belong to the people and that the public while engaged in activities that utilize the water should be allowed to incidentally touch even privately held stream beds while engaged in activities that utilize the water....

 

These are public resources that are maintained and managed and conserved using public monies. So, we saw House Bill 141 which has kind of an ironic title as the ‘Public Waters Access Act’ as abolishing or severely restricting the public’s right to lawfully access and use these public resources.”

But, Utah Assistant Attorney General Thom Roberts defends the law, saying more regulation was necessary: "There are complaints of people who in addition to using the waters also walk across the land, arguably trespass across the land, create damage, and leave trash."

Monday, Judge Derek Pullan ruled public streams and rivers are public assets, however the legislature also has the authority to regulate their use. But he has yet to rule on whether the state’s 2010 law went too far. That decision is expected to come by the end of the year.